The Amazing Florence Foster Jenkins
Florence Foster Jenkins had the dubious distinction of being the worst singer in the world. Unaware of her deficit, she made a successful career of it. She had a cult following, including luminaries such as Cole Porter, who did not miss a recital. Unbeknownst to her, they applauded her performances and purchased her recordings for their comedic value.
Brilliantly portrayed by Meryl Streep, Jenkins began in Philadelphia as a child prodigy on piano, but due to an arm injury, and infection with syphilis from her first husband, she was no longer able to pursue a career as a pianist. In 1900 she moved to Manhattan. Her health declined from the mercury and arsenic treatments she was given for syphilis. She wore wigs to disguise the loss of her hair, and her hearing was impaired.
A Patron Of The Arts
Florence Jenkins’ family inheritance made her wealthy and she was always generous in her support of the arts, particularly music. She decided, at the age of 42, to become a singer, subsequently giving elaborate costumed performances at various private clubs. In 1917 she started her own club called the Verdi Club, whose members included famous musicians and other luminaries in the social scene. St. Clair Bayfield, her common-law husband and manager for 36 years, carefully curated her audiences to exclude critics, or strangers who were not predisposed to support her performances, until her final performance at Carnegie Hall.
The 2016 movie called “Florence Foster Jenkins” effectively portrays the tragicomic nature of her life. Featuring masterful performances by Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, the great comedic talent of Simon Helberg is also on display as Jenkin’s accompanist. (Helberg is best known for his role as Howard Wolowitz in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory.)
Costumes, sets and cinematography are beautifully evocative of a lost era. The movie conveys charm, humor, and pathos.
Like Don Quixote, Florence Foster Jenkins pursued the impossible dream. Like Don Quixote, she was a figure of fun and inspirational at the same time. We come away from this movie with a clear sense of this dichotomy.
The movie was produced by Michael Kuhn and Tracey Seaward, and executive producers Cameron McCracken, Christine Langan and Malcomlm Ritchie. It was written by Nicholas Martin.
“Stephen Frears’s enjoyable, sentimental biopic gives Streep a role to relish, while Hugh Grant provides a touching foil in a genuine paean to mediocrity.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
“Meryl Streep stars in an enjoyable look back at a would-be singer and a Carnegie Hall concert remembered for how awful it was.” – Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times